The Army’s high-priority battle wagon, the Ground Combat Vehicle, is likely to weigh as much as 84 tons, making it the heaviest armored vehicle on the battlefield.
The new weight estimate, released by the Congressional Budget Office, mean that the service’s replacement for the outdated Bradley fighting vehicle would be heavier than an M1 Abrams tank and weigh more than two current Bradleys.
The CBO latest working paper, “Technical Challenges of the U.S. Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle Program,” makes the GVC resemble overly ambitious Army programs that failed in the past such the Comanche attack helicopter, the Crusader self-propelled howitzer and the family of super vehicles under the failed Future Combat Systems program.
Even at that weight, the CBO maintains that the GCV “would still need to employ new electromechanical active protection systems to meet the Army’s survivability goal.”
The Army intends to replace about 40 percent of the Bradleys in its heavy combat brigades with GVCs. The Army issued a revised RFP in November 2010 after the initial solicitation were deemed too ambitious and created a real possibility that high technical risks and immature technologies would lead to spiraling costs and schedule delays.
The revised RFP left some flexibility in how the contractor could address the requirements and designated a manufacturing cost of between $9 million and $10.5 million per vehicle, an average procurement unit cost of $13 million per vehicle, and a sustainment cost of $200 per mile of operation.
Three teams submitted proposals.5 In August 2011, the Army awarded contracts valued at about $450 million each to two of the contractor teams: one led by General Dynamics Land Systems and the other by BAE Systems.
The Army announced an initial acquisition goal of 1,874 vehicles with production of the vehicle starting in 2018. The Bradley replacement must protect the crew and a nine-man infantry squad against a specified list of threats and be able to operate a wide range of conflict types by having three variable levels of protection according to the anticipated threat.
The requirement that the GCV carry a nine-man squad and the remaining crew inside the vehicle’s protected volume is a primary factor in setting the size, weight, and cost of the GCV, the CBO maintains.
The service’s fleet of medium-weight Stryker armored vehicles, which first fielded that capability in 2003, enjoyed a high rate of success in combat operations over the past decade.
But even at such a tank-like weight, the GVC’s survivibility will likely have to rely on its ability to avoid being engaged at all given the growing capabilities and attack angles of modern threats, the CBO maintains. And if the vehicle is engaged, designers try to prevent the threat from hitting the vehicle. That approach results in a “multilayered scheme—the “survivability onion”—in which armor is one of the last lines of defense,” according the CBO.
This sounds a lot like what the fleet of manned and unmanned ground vehicles under FCS was supposed to achieve. An extensive system of networked sensors would provide near-complete awareness of the situation around the vehicle while remote weapons killed most threats. The advanced networks would analyze and disseminate the intelligence and targeting data.
To date, however, the networks have not been able to provide the necessary information in a complete and timely manner, the CBO maintains. In 2011, the Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation concluded that recent testing by the Army showed that the sensor and communication networks were still not ready for that task, CBO states. Furthermore, even proponents of network-based warfare agree that it may be impossible to establish sufficient situation awareness to avoid many engagements.